A Lab Report By Lily Spellman
When John got up in the morning, each morning for 6 years, he thought of zombies. He thought of how many there would be, he thought of who was going to die that day, he thought of where he could go that day to work on his project and more importantly, he thought of how much fake blood he had already used and how happy he is to see it all on film. John is a filmmaker, through and through. For 6 years he poured his heart and soul into a passion project involving the locals in his town, friends of friends, favors called in and a whole lot of hometown love and the result is a film that drips with charm and goofy fun.
Thr33 days dead tells the story of 3 friends who just want to hang out, on a day that should be good times, good friends and good fishing. The trio of lazy friends is left adrift on the lake after a zombie outbreak traps them on their small boat. After a night of suffering through the elements, they make a break for it finding themselves back in town only to realize things aren't exactly as they left them. Hoards of undead roam the streets and lurk in buildings, unwittingly unleashed when a local grave robber attempts to score big only to take a blast from some infected blood, spreading the disease quickly in the lightly populated area.
Throughout the film, we're treated to some funny one-liners, some drive-in quality effects that will leave you loving the homemade charm and a plot full of references and a goofy good time. Thr33 Days Dead doesn't mess around when it comes to pushing the story forward and can be hectic at times, the rawness of the film brings to mind the slew of releases that plagued our shelves around 2005, but where movies like Suburban Sasquatch took a low budget and made an unwatchable film, John has made something that while lacking the polish of a large budget film has its charm and has become a cult favorite around the MutantFam crew.
With a budget of around 25k, it is amazing what he was able to accomplish! The film also gained interest from SyFy who as an accompanying piece had released "Town of the Living Dead", a reality television show detailing the process of filming, the ups, and downs of having no budget and the quirky, fun and friendly folks that surround the film itself. When it comes to B movies it can be hit or miss, I find that a lot of the time a BAD movie can be a GREAT movie as long as it is entertaining and Thr33 Days Dead has that in spades. It takes things like sometimes poor sound quality, some visual effects that don't quite go the distance and a frantic story and makes them work for the movie not against it.
All those things work to add to the charm of the film and keep you watching. By the end of the film I was left encouraged, it showed me that if you have a dream you can follow it even if everyone around you looks at you like your nuts. It showed me that a little hard work can truly make something worthwhile and that money doesn't make something good. When all is said and done this is a film you should watch, not because its a hidden masterpiece, but because it was made with love by people who just wanted to see their friends get eaten by zombies and maybe show some other folks how much they enjoyed it. That's special.
John came by the Lab this week to have a few of his leftover zombies donated to the Doc, not really sure what we need MORE zombies for but hey, fun, more stupid cages for me to clean....yay..... ANYWAY. John came by and we got a chance to sit down and have a chat about the film, the process behind it and the television show that accompanied it!
Let us take a look:
Lily is leaned back at her desk reading The Joe Bob Fanzine, oblivious to the world as a CRT television on the corner of her desk blares a loud ALERT across the screen. She flips the page as the alarm continues to flash and sound, reading peacefully, a small cybernetic rebreather over her mouth giving her a sort of mad max look as her goggles rested on her forehead. The alarm continues as a ghost dressed in a very expensive 18th-century suit floats through the wall and begins waving its hands through the TV to no avail.
"oh come o...HEY" the ghost shouts
Lily's gaze is still focused on the magazine as she answers a dry “yeah?"
"This...THING has been going off for 15 minutes!"
"AND!...we...are you going to answer it?”
Lily sighs and puts the magazine down.
"Listen, if I answer it, then next time, I have to answer it again..."
"Oh my god! your lucky I'm incorporeal or..."
"Okay okay, don't get your weird, pantaloons or whatever in a bunch…"
She leans forward and hits the small red button on the right side of the set flicking the picture over to a security feed of John Ware standing outside the castle door with 2 zombies on leashes behind him, soaking wet and not looking pleased.
"OH HEY!" Lily says cheerfully, trying her best to not acknowledge the obvious fuck up she just made, "Come on in! the Doc has been waiting a while!" she says, waving the ghost away as she speaks.
The ghost floats off, not looking impressed and Lily begins to spin in her chair as she waits for John to descend the many stairs to the lab. As John enters the room Lily kicks off the wall sending her chair flying across the room to the entrance, stopping her chair a few feet away from him.
John looks around confused.
"NAME AND OCCUPATION!" Lily barks.
John: John M. Ware, I live in Michael Rooker's hometown Jasper Alabama...Child of the 80s love most everything horror...I love pro wrestling.haha
Lily: Yeah I know haha, just messing with ya, so what's up?
John gestures to the 2 zombies he has with him.
Lily: OH! yeah, this happens a lot around Christmas, people get a zombie and they aren't prepared to feed and walk it and they end up roaming the streets in packs eating
strangers or worse! Its better off this way, the lab will take care of them, we have a great zombie romper room!
John hugs his zombies as Igore enters and takes hold of the leashes
John: You guys be good ok...*Sniffle* and remember what I taught you?
The zombies look at each other and back to john before groaning "Huuuuulllkkaaamaaaaniaaaa?"
John: That'll do zombie, that'll do...
Lily stares in bewilderment for a few moments before breaking the silence
Lily: Sooooooo......What was the town of the living dead, how did that get started?
John: (wiping a tear away) Town of the Living Dead was a "comedic docu-series" about the making of Thr33 Days Dead. Somehow a production company that specializes in Reality Television from Atlanta heard about the movie and our struggles and they called me, the day after I was released from the hospital after having a mini stroke 3 days earlier, ironically.
Lily: Oh wow, how did the show affect your life at the time?
John: We didn't start production on the show until a year later. I loved and hated it at the same time.
Lily: Tea? Coffee?
Lily snaps and a small hand runs into the room, balancing a beer on its stump and runs it over to John who takes it while staring, the hand then flips John the bird and runs off.
John: Was that....Thing?
Lily: No that WAS David. he's an asshole.
John and Lily head over to the couch to relax a bit more.
Lily: So, did they get in the way of production of the film or were they content to just watch
John: The premise of the show was that we had been working on the movie for 6 years which we had, but the computers crashed and we lost all the footage. And if we finished the reshoots while they were filming they would air it on Syfy. There were things they wanted us to add so in a way they hindered because we had to shoot a movie and a reality show at the same time, but they did bring more money so they helped in ways too.
Lily: Do you feel the false drama and dumber down personas of reality tv to have hurt your movies overall ratings and viewings.
John: (taking a large sip of his beer) No because honestly, we were funny as shit. The time slot killed us tho. We were directly opposite Sons of Anarchy at 8 pm CST and the reruns aired at 9 pm and that was opposite Supernatural.
Lily: Oh, that's a killer, Anarchy was huge in its day.
John: It was the final season! So EVERYONE watched it instead.
Lily: So much worse Haha.
Lily pulls out her phone and begins to flip through camera feeds as she talks
Lily: What even was the budget for the film?
John: We ended up with a budget of $25k. It was never like a set in stone number that's just what we ended up spending. It all came from my producer Tina Teeter. She came into the store I was working at at the time Radio Shack and we just started talking she had done some theatre and wanted to help with a small part "Mom" and she ended up funding it.
Lily: What was the biggest challenge in making a movie on such a small budget?
John: Time. We shot 1 day a week for the longest time. We lost 3 lead females 3 lead males 2 supporting males. At times it was a train-wreck ha.
Lily settles on a feed and holds the phone up to John, showing his zombies tearing into some poor bastard in their pen, a smile crosses Johns face as he sees his friends are happy and healthy.
Lily: What were some of the types of practical effects you used?
John: We used latex and loads of fake blood that we made. We also used some squibs here and there. Lots of condoms were bought to be used as blood packs. There’s a few digital shots but mostly only enhancements for the practical.
Lily: (still smirking at the idea of mass condom purchases) It's easy to see you have a love of zombie films and pay homage many times throughout. What attracts you to the zombie?
John: I tell ya. It was never really my favorite. It was after I had a short conversation with a local filmmaker, Chance Shirley, that I endeavored to make a zombie flick. A friend of mine had to say “Hey we need to make a zombie flick” so I took that as confirmation. And we were off to the races!
Lily: Would you ever see yourself doing a sequel to Thr33 Days Dead?
John: HELL YES!! I have a sequel written and it is nothing like anyone has ever seen! It turns the genre on its head, But I need funding. And not $25k...More like $250k haha...
John finishes his beer and sets it on the floor by the leg of the couch, a small green hand reaches out and grabs the bottle gobbling it up with a series of loud crunches.
Lily: You mentioned interference from SyFy that hurt the movie as a whole, what was the problem, what had to change?
John: They wanted something different. In the Syfy version, there's a zombie penis that gets torn off and thrown through the air hitting our comic relief in the face. Also, they promised us an explosion which they got for the show. But for drama, they triggered it early and our camera missed it.
Lily: That's insane honestly. If you could do it over without them would you?
The green hand reaches out again searching for more but finding only John's pant leg. Tugging at it until it receives a sharp boot, then retreating with an “ohhh".
John: I honestly don't know how to answer that. Them showing up was a catalyst to wrapping everything up when we did. The Director's Cut has about 5 or 10 minutes from the SyFy Cut. Tying up loose ends that we never shot.
Lily: Bit of a double-ended sword
John: Yeah it is. I wish I had known how bad the time-slot was and I wish I would've told them no on some things.
Lily: Do you have any plans for a film outside of the zombie genre?
John: Yes. I am writing a crime drama a very film noir meets twin peaks piece.
Lily: I love twin peaks, cant wait to see what comes of this.
John: Me too. Again it all comes down to funding.
Lily: We all know a big-budget doesn't 100% make a good movie, in your opinion, what do you think makes a movie worth watching?
Lily stands up and gestures for John to join her as she walks towards the large wooden door that serves as the entrance of the room.
John: The story. Lots of people get dazzled by special effects and what not, but a good story is key and chemistry between actors. One comment I've gotten from people on the Director's Cut is that they can feel the emotional connection between the characters and how they can connect as an audience to the characters
Lily: Flows well into my next question, what do you feel about the current resurgence in story-heavy horror?
John: Again. I'm a storyteller and have always wanted to be, so it's a great time to tell stories. We are creating a modern mythology that can be passed down.
Lily: Whats the last horror movie you really fell in love with and why?
Lily starts to guide John with her hands left and right slightly while they speak.
John: Ooooh I really liked the Contracted movies and I need to see a 3rd one... haha. They were telling a compelling story. And knew what images to use to hook and revolt someone at the same time. And then there's Hellhouse LLC. Absolutely love those they almost make me wanna do a lost footage flick.
Lily: How has stumbling upon the MutantFam affected you?
John: I had said for years that Joe Bob needed to be brought back at least in rerun capacity and then when they did the first marathon I was so super excited. I had always felt like I was the only one who watched him. I mean I knew I wasn't because networks don't air things that people don't watch. Then I found my people haha.
Lily closes one eye and steps back, checking to make sure she has it all right.
Lily: What advice can you give to young filmmakers looking to start their first feature?
Lily walks across the room to her desk and flips open a small panel containing a series of buttons
John: Get a good DP one that will take direction. If you can't find one learn to be one. I am not a camera guy. I can be one but It's not my favorite job. Also, learn to edit. I love editing
Lily: So you know the routine, I tell you it’s safe to leave, you leave, I drop you into a death maze yadda yadda. anything else before I do this thing?
John: Thank you to the star of the movie @BryanBoylen, can't make a movie without a lead actor. Catherine Teeter who played Valerie, Gary Carreker my brother who played Pete... Chase Lawrence who played Jeff and Tina Teeter my producer who also played mom. GOD EVERYONE that ever helped haha we would be here all day if I were to name everyone.
And with that Lily hit a button john was sent screaming through a trap door, landing himself JUST shy of the death maze by the front door where he started. John looks up at the camera and smiles before he heads down the long and winding path... sometimes, even mad scientists have a soft spot.
Be sure to check out Thr33 Days Dead, and follow John himself at @JohnMWare. He's a dedicated filmmaker and a great guy.